I am a pretty strict parent, but I have really just two basic guidelines for my kids:
1. Ask me anything.
2. Tell me everything.
That second one is a work in progress and maybe a little bit of a pipe dream, but I want them to know that they can talk to me. I'm their mother and not their friend, so that means that when they tell me everything, it could lead to consequences, but mostly if they are open and honest, especially about problems, we can always find a way to solve them, or at least they have the opportunity to get a problem off their shoulders.
I've always tried to be honest in parenting my kids. If they ask me a question, I've always tried my best to deliver an honest answer, the most honest answer I can, while still being age-appropriate. So far, that's worked for me. Of course, my kids used to be small. And now they are getting older, their questions are getting more complicated and therefore, my answers are also getting a bit more involved, too.
They're "tweens" now, as in "in-between," as in "in-between the hero-worship of young children and the contempt of teens." And as the object of the hero-worship and contempt, I know that I'm existing in a fragile land where my time to cram as many meaningful lessons into their heads might be limited; that as they get older, it might be harder for these lessons to sink in, so I don't want to let an opportunity pass me by.
So, when my son remarks on a story about bath salts on the news, saying that the son of a teacher's friend is in the hospital for the rest of his life for sniffing bath salts, I saw an opportunity. He was confused—why would someone get hurt from smelling bubble bath? So I explained what I knew of bath salts–dangerous, deadly chemicals that could kill you, but that some people will ingest these chemicals because they think it will make them feel good. But there's no telling what's in that chemical cocktail, and there's no guarantee that it won't kill you, or permanently injure you, even if you only do it once.
I've long told my kids, if you do something you know you shouldn't do and you own up to it, you'll still get in trouble, but the fact that you told the truth means that you won't get in as much trouble. But, if you lie about it, I'll find out. You'll not only get a more severe punishment, you'll lose my trust.
When they were really little and they took chances that toddlers take and would hurt themselves or I would freak out when they would almost hurt themselves, I would tell them—I only get one of you; I can't ever replace you. So you have to take care of yourself.
Now, I tell him that I know he's going to make choices I don't agree with—that's part of growing up. He's got to find his own way. But he's got to understand the difference between a bad choice that will simply make me mad and a bad choice that will make me mad and could kill him. Smoking a cigarette is a bad choice that will make me mad; sniffing bath salts is a bad choice that will make me mad and could kill him.
While I don't want him to smoke cigarettes, I was his age once and I know that no matter what I want, he's going to make his own choices. Yes, smoking is dangerous and could kill him in the long run, but it's not the same as a choice that could kill him immediately. He's got to know the difference. He's going to do what he wants to do, and I can only do my best to arm him ahead of time, to remind him that sometimes choices aren't just a matter of that moment, they impact your whole life.
And he only gets one life. I only get one of him; he can never be replaced. And I pray he makes the right choices.